The crowd was yelling, crying out for the next combatants to be brought forth. The stadium was alive with the call for action. These people came to see a boxing match, and their enthusiasm for the bout became a part of the show.
I slowly approached the ring. Sweat and Vaseline appeared like a mask upon my face. I was nervous. I knew nothing about my opponent. I had taken this fight on short notice, never finding out my opponent’s record. He was to enter the ring after I claimed my corner.
My manager pulled the ropes apart for me as I climbed onto the canvas. I felt weary. Something was already draining my strength.
“Do I smell sulfur?” I asked Richie, my trainer.
“Not sure what sulfur smells like, Johnny…could be,” Richie answered.
“What’s this guy’s name, again?”
“He calls himself ‘Evil One,’” my manager, Scooter Livingston, answered.
“Evil One, what kind of a name is that?” I replied, looking toward the aisle way to see if my opponent was making his way to the ring.
Suddenly, and very unexpectedly, my opponent was standing in the ring. No one saw him walk up. The crowd roared with excitement at such a magical entrance by Evil One. And they roared a second time when they saw how huge and defined this monster of a man was. He stood at least six-foot-seven, a full six inches taller than me. He had to have 22-inch biceps and his chest had to be twice the size of mine.
I tried to leave the ring, but Scooter and Richie blocked my exit.
“This audience will kill all of us if you back out now,” Scooter explained.
“I’m dead either way. Might as well run for it,” I shot back.
“Just go in there and make it look good. Take a dive if you have to. But you’re not going to be able to leave this stadium right now. These people will tear you apart before you get past the fifth row,” Richie added.
The referee called us to the center of the ring. Evil One towered over me. His breath was disgusting, his body odor even worse. My legs wobbled and my stomach churned. The referee had to hold me up as he told us the rules and what he expected from the Evil One and me.
And then it began. I don’t even remember walking back to my corner in between the instructions and the opening bell. I only remember Evil One’s Everlast boxing gloves leaving a dent on my face. And then another. And then another. I was whirling in complete circles in between each of the devastating blows. My spiraling body must have looked similar to a spinning top that I used to play with as a lad.
I don’t know how I made it through the round but I did. The referee had to point me to the right corner. I was barely awake. Both eyes were swollen and stinging. My ribs felt like someone had poured quarts of acid on them. And my chin…well…I was sure I didn’t have a chin anymore. Richie and Scooter assured me I still did.
“Perhaps I can help,” I heard a voice call out from behind my manager and trainer.
“My name’s ‘Good Shepherd,’” the man replied. “I’ve fought this Evil One before. I know how he can be beat. I know his weaknesses. In fact, I know them very well.”
I was extremely skeptical. Evil One’s eyebrows looked more devastating than my best right hook!
“Listen to me, Johnny,” Good demanded. “When you go back out there, I’ll tell you where and when to swing. I’ll let you know when to shuffle, when to dodge, and when to back-peddle. I know Evil One better than he knows himself. Do you trust me?”
What choice did I have? The crowd would tear me to shreds if I made a run for the door. And I had survived the first round. I had taken the worst beating of my life, and I was still breathing, still walking and talking.
“I really don’t see any other choice but to trust you. I mean you say you’ve battled this guy before. You won, right.”
“Technical knockout,” I asked him.
“No, knockout,” he answered.
The bell rang. I charged forward, listening for Good to call out directions.
“Move left!” he yelled.
I did, and I could feel the wind of a haymaker just miss my temple.
I shot out an uppercut. It landed. My hand throbbed with pain. Evil One’s chin was like concrete, good, hard and solid concrete, not the kind that was still drying!
“Duck right! Right hook!”
I ducked right and threw out a right hook, planting my glove square on Evil’s cheek. I was sure I actually heard him grunt from the pain.
The crowd was in a frenzy as I began to take over the fight. Good’s instructions allowed me to avoid Evil’s crushing swings and counterattack at just the right moments. Each round, the fight seemed to get easier for me. This Good character had me believing I could pull off this huge upset.
At the end of the ninth round, I made my way back to my corner.
“Where’s Good?” I asked Richie.
“He had to go. Said he’s building a new home somewhere; had to make sure all the rooms were going to be done on time.”
“Huh, are you kidding me? This is the last round! I need him here to tell me what to do and when to do it!”
“He said you’d say that. He told me to tell you that if after nine rounds of tangling with this guy, you didn’t know what to do, you never would. And he said to tell you to trust what you’ve already learned. I tried to get him to stay, but he really had to finish that house he’s working on.”
The bell rang. I made my way to the center of the ring. Evil came out with a screaming left that caught the tip of my nose. I fired back with a jab that landed square on his jaw. I could still hear Good’s voice. I looked back to the corner. He wasn’t there. But his words, his directions and advice, were stuck in my head. I could hear his commands even though he had left the stadium.
Evil was furious with my performance. He seemed more determined than ever to remove my head from my body. He chased me around the ring. He even tried to land a headbutt a few times, and was warned by the referee that his actions could result in a disqualification.
The ten-seconds left in the round warning sounded, and I knew that I had beaten my opponent. I counted out the seconds as Evil One chased me around the ring and desperately tried to land a punch. He never got close. Shepherd’s advice and tutelage had been flawless. I had beaten the most menacing opponent I had ever faced.
Evil One didn’t wait around for the judges scorecards. He made his way to the locker room in a fit of anger. Though some say he disappeared as he made his way through the crowd.
After the referee raised my arm in triumph, I walked to the corner and asked Richie, “Ya think we’ll ever see Good again?”
“I’m sure we will. Guy like that…seems like the type that always show up when someone needs some good advice or a helping hand.”
“Yeah, he did seem like that kind of guy,” I replied. “He sure did.”